Must-know facts about fossil fuels: production, consumption and climate change trends

5 February 2021 (Last Updated February 8th, 2021 06:34)

Fossil fuels are the world's most abundant and widely used energy sources. Despite the increased production and use of environmentally friendly renewable sources, fossil fuels continue to be critical to meet the world’s energy needs.

Must-know facts about fossil fuels: production, consumption and climate change trends
Offshore Technology lists some of the must-know facts about fossil fuel sources, including oil, natural gas, and coal. Credit: Calin Tatu / Shutterstock.

Fossil fuels are the world’s most abundant and widely used energy sources. Despite the increased production and use of environmentally friendly renewable sources, fossil fuels continue to be critical to meet the world’s energy needs.

Offshore Technology lists some of the must-know facts about the production and consumption of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuel production in 2019

The global oil output in 2019 declined by 60,000 barrels a day (b/d) mainly due to a production cut of two million barrels a day by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which offset a 1.7 million barrel a day (Mbd) increase in the US production.

Global coal production increased by 0.5% to 8.12 billion tonnes in 2019 from 8.09 billion tonnes in 2018, while global natural gas output witnessed a 3.4% year-on-year increase to 3,989 billion cubic metres (bcm).

Top oil-producing countries

facts about fossil fuels
The US produced 12.23 million b/d of crude oil and condensate in 2019. Credit: J Stephen Conn.

The US was the biggest oil-producing country in 2019, with total crude oil and condensate production of 12.23Mbd, followed by Russia (11.3Mbd) and Saudi Arabia (10.1Mbd).

Advanced technologies used in the extraction of fossil fuels, including horizontal drilling and fracking, that are facilitating the cost-efficient recovery of oil and gas resources have contributed to the growing US output in recent years.

Natural gas producers: biggest countries

Natural gas production in 2019 was highest in the US, at 920.9bcm. The country’s output rose 10.2% year-on-year. Russia (679bcm) and Iran (244.2bcm) were the world’s second and third biggest natural gas producers, followed by  Qatar (178.1bcm) and China (177.6bcm).

Top coal producing countries

China, the world’s biggest coal producer, extracted 3.69 billion tonnes of coal in 2019, followed by India, the US, Indonesia, and Australia

The total proven coal reserves in the world were estimated at more than one trillion tonnes in 2019. With 249 billion tonnes of recoverable reserves, the US has the largest proven coal reserves, followed by Russia (162 billion tonnes), Australia (149 billion tonnes), China (142 billion tonnes), and India (106 billion tonnes).

Top companies producing fossil fuels

fossil fuels
Crude oil is a naturally occurring fossil fuel. Credit: Anan Kaewkhammul / Shutterstock.

The top three oil producing companies come from OPEC member countries and Russia, a key ally of the OPEC group. While the world’s biggest natural gas producer is a Russian state-owned company, the biggest coal producing company is a state-owned company in India.

Biggest oil-producing companies

1. Saudi Aramco

The world’s leading crude oil producer, Saudi Aramco produced 9.9 million metric barrels per day (Mmbpd) of crude oil in 2019, a 3.8% decline over 2018. It produced 9.2Mmbpd of crude during the first nine months of 2020. Saudi Aramco is also one of the ten biggest oil and gas companies in the world.

2. Rosneft

Rosneft is the second-biggest oil producer in the world, with a crude oil production rate of 4.67Mmbpd in 2019. The company’s annual liquids production stood at 230.25 million metric tonnes (Mmt).

3. Kuwait Petroleum Corporation

Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, the national oil company of Kuwait, produced 2.67Mmbpd of crude oil in 2019. It implemented a $2.3bn cut in spending in 2020 due to oil price slump and weakened demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Biggest natural gas producers: top companies

1. Gazprom

Gazprom produced 501.2bcm of natural gas in 2019, accounting for 12% of the world’s natural gas production and 68% of Russia’s production. The state-owned energy company had 34,899bcm of natural gas reserves in Russia as of December 2019.

2. EQT

EQT, a natural gas company based in the US, recorded 40.63bcm of natural gas production in 2019. Its operations are focused in the Marcellus and Utica shales of the Appalachian Basin.

3. Shell

Shell reported total production of 286.8 million cubic metres in 2019 becoming the world’s third-biggest natural gas producer. The company’s proved oil and gas reserves were 11.09 billion barrels of oil equivalent, as of December 2019.

Coal: top three coal-producing companies

coal production
Coal India’s coal production in 2019 was 602.14Mt. Credit: Mr. Tempter / Shutterstock.

1. Coal India

Coal India is the single largest coal producer in the world. The Indian state-owned coal mining behemoth produced 602.14Mt of coal in 2019 and aims to reach the one billion production mark by 2024.

2. China Shenhua Energy

The largest state-owned coal mining enterprise in Mainland China, China Shenhua Energy produced 4.7% lesser coal in 2019, at 283Mt, and sold 447Mt. of coal. It is involved in the mining and production of coal as well as electricity generation.

3. Glencore

Glencore produced 139.5Mt of coal, including 123.9Mt of thermal coal, 9.2Mt of coking coal and 6.4Mt of semi-soft coal.

Biggest consumers of fossil fuels: top countries

Approximately 84% of the world’s energy consumption needs are met from fossil fuels, with oil accounting for 33.05% of the consumption in 2019 and natural gas and coal accounting for 24.2% and 27.3% respectively, according to BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2020.

Global oil consumption increased by 0.9% from 97.34Mbd to 98.27Mbd, while the world’s total natural gas consumption soared by 2% to 3,929bcm, well below the 5.3% growth recorded in 2018.

Japan was the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas (LNG) importer in 2019. The global demand for coal fell by 0.6% to 157.85 exajoules. The European Union recorded an 18.83% slump in coal consumption during the period.

Biggest oil-consuming nations

Three of the five biggest oil-consuming nations are in Asia Pacific, while the US remains the world’s biggest consumer of oil.

1. US

The US recorded oil consumption of 19.4Mbd in 2019, a marginal fall of 0.1% from 19.42Mbd in 2018. The US alone accounts for approximately 19.76% of the world’s total consumption.

2. China

Asia’s biggest oil consumer, China’s oil consumption grew 5.1% year-on-year from 13.37Mbd to 14.05Mbd.

3. India

India witnessed a 3.1% increase in oil consumption to 5.27Mbd. India’s oil consumption, however, is just 37% of China’s and 27% of the US.

Japan’s oil demand fell marginally by 1.1% to 3.81Mbd during the period. Russia’s oil consumption rose by 1.1% to 3.31Mbd. Its share of global oil demand stood at 3.4%.

Natural gas: top three countries by consumption

LNG tanker
The world’s total natural gas demand was 3,929bcm in 2019. Credit: Wojciech Wrzesien/Shutterstock.

Natural gas demand in the US, the largest gas consumer, increased by 27bcm or 3.3% year-on-year to 846.6bcm in 2019, driven by increased gas usage by the electric power and industrial sectors.

Russia is the second biggest natural gas user with consumption of 444.3bcm.

China, the world’s third-biggest natural gas consumer, witnessed an 8.6% rise in gas usage from 283bcm to 307.3bcm. It accounted for 7.8% of the world’s gas consumption.

Biggest coal consuming countries

China continues to lead in coal consumption with 2,866 million tonnes of coal-equivalent (Mtce) consumed in 2019, which accounts for 53% of the world’s total consumption.

India occupied second place with 585Mtce, followed by the US, which consumed 397Mtce.

Share of fossil fuels in electricity generation

Oil, coal, and natural gas together accounted for 62.75% of the total electricity generated worldwide in 2019.

Coal’s share of the global electric power output was the highest at 36.37%, making it the most used fossil fuel for power generation, followed by natural gas (23.32%) and oil (3.05%). Power producers are, however, replacing coal with natural gas in order to reduce carbon emissions.

The use of natural gas for global electricity generation in 2019 increased by 3.5%, while that of coal fell by 2.6%. The demand for natural gas, a cleaner alternative to coal for electric power production, is projected to increase by 35% by 2040, according to ExxonMobil.

Fossil fuels: outlook and impact on climate change

impact of fossil fuels
Fossil fuels are a major source of global warming, which is responsible for the destruction of animal habitats. Credit: Andreas Weith.

Countries worldwide are on course to produce approximately 50% more fossil fuels by 2030 while limiting the global warming to not more than 2°C, according to a United Nations (UN) report released in December 2020.

The report estimates that the world is at risk of failing to meet climate goals set under the Paris Agreement if current production plans are implemented. Oil companies are expected to invest approximately $4.9tn over the next ten years to extract oil and gas from existing fields and new field developments, according to a report by watchdog group Global Witness.